Today we will talk about what the Android shell is and why phone manufacturers change the stock version of the operating system. Consider the best shells for Android on the market: Google Pixel UI, Samsung One UI, OnePlus OxygenOS, Xiaomi MIUI, Oppo ColorOS and the rest. This is a kind of TOP skin.
All Android phones run on the same operating system – Google Android. But their appearance and interface can be radically different depending on the brand of the manufacturer.
For example, if you look at Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi, you might think that they have the same software, because they run on Android. However, upon closer inspection, it can be seen that the interface of the phones is radically different. That’s because they have their versions of the operating systems, which are known as Android “shells.”
What is android shell
Unlike the proprietary iOS, Apple’s proprietary operating system, Android is an open-source operating system. This allows smartphone manufacturers to change the software, adding various features and visual improvements.
Some brands take advantage of this by customizing the user interface of their phones, adding new features, a unique design style and standing out from the competition. Other manufacturers leave everything as it is and practically do not affect the standard features of Android.
Because of this, Android smartphones are distinguished by a variety of interfaces. You can pick up a phone that fits your style externally and internally, rather than choosing from Apple’s tightly limited lineup on iOS.
The difference between the standard Android and the shell:
- Stock Android is a “naked” version of the operating system. It hides under any proprietary software shell of the “Android phone”. It is lightweight, fast, and easy to use, but less functional than shells.
- Android shells are software modifications that are installed on top of stock Android. Often they differ in appearance and offer unique opportunities.
Since Google’s stock platform provides only basic capabilities, using it you can’t take advantage of the additional features available in such “heavy” versions of Android as Samsung’s One UI or Xiaomi’s MIUI.
Below is a list of the main Shells for Android currently available on the market. If you are buying a phone based on Android for the first time, this material will be a good help in making a decision.
When it comes to “stock” Android, we mean the basic version of the operating system, created as part of the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP). AOSP is an open-source operating system development project supported by Google. Thanks to the open-source code, any developer can make corrections to the code.
Android Base is developed and maintained by Google. Every year there are major updates to the operating system, for example, in the autumn of 2022 Android 13 will be released. Based on the stock version, smartphone manufacturers create their shells.
Smartphones based on pure Android very quickly receive updates to the new version of the OS and have minimal bloat of the interface and maximum software security. At the same time, their interface does not look very interesting.
Once upon a time, Google’s Nexus line and Google Play versions of popular third-party phones were produced with stock Android. Now, this happens infrequently because most manufacturers prefer to put software shells on phones. If you want to get a phone with the original version of Android, you will have to uninstall the software pre-installed by the smartphone manufacturer, and then install the standard Android yourself.
If you need to buy a phone with stock Android, then Motorola or Nokia are the two main options. Previously, there was an A-series from Xiaomi on Android One, but it has already been discontinued, ending with the Xiaomi Mi A3 model.
Google – Pixel UI
Many may think that since Pixel phones are made by Google, they come with a stock version of Android. Google’s same Nexus line came with stock Android, so most people tend to believe it’s the same story with the Pixel.
Google Pixel smartphones come with an Android shell, colloquially known as pixel UI. It is very similar to the stock system, but includes many additional features and has a different design.
Pixel UI is the most stable Android shell used on Google Pixel phones. Note that Pixel UI isn’t the official name Google has given to this skin; it’s just a term that users use when talking about a shell.
Many people equate the Pixel UI with stock Android because they look and behave pretty much the same (Google owns Android, after all). But, despite the external similarities, they are different: the Pixel UI shell has more functions and is also more visually attractive.
The main advantage of Pixel UI is that it receives updates faster than any other Android software shell. If you have a Pixel phone, you’ll get new Android features before others. While Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi or Oppo will develop and implement, you will already be able to enjoy all the delights of the update.
Google often releases updates faster than other smartphone manufacturers. In second place in terms of speed is Samsung, in third place is Xiaomi.
Pixel UI is focused on Google services. This can be both a plus and a minus, depending on how actively you use them. The same Xiaomi cuts Google services in the firmware of some regions of MIUI.
The shell looks and feels very similar to stock Android. If you are looking for a version of Android with a clean interface that does not radically change the natural perception of the OS, Pixel UI can be one of the best design options. However, the skin lacks many of the interesting features that other “heavier” shells provide, such as Samsung’s One UI or Oppo’s Color OS.
Samsung – One UI
Today, Samsung is the most popular smartphone manufacturer in the world. If you have a Samsung phone and it’s released relatively recently, you’re already familiar with the One UI user interface.
One UI is a shell that is used on all Samsung Galaxy phones released after 2018. It is the successor to the old TouchWiz Android shell. One UI is one of the heaviest skins on our list, it is loved by both regular and experienced users, and it is endowed with many features that are not in other interfaces.
By the word “heavy” we mean not a slow speed of work, but the presence of more functions and design changes than in other shells. This may appeal to experienced users and connoisseurs of complete control over their smartphone, but scare off ordinary people who will probably never use (or even not know about the existence) of half of the available interface capabilities.
Some people complain about pre-installed Samsung shell apps. The Korean company replaces many of Google’s apps with its own, including the browser, app store, calendar, as well as important apps like Phone, Messages, Contacts, and Clock.
Because of these additional applications, Samsung software can seem cumbersome, especially if you’re used to using Google apps. However, thanks to One UI, there is Samsung Knox protection and software updates for four years, which is more than Google offers for the Pixel line.
Samsung has introduced a powerful design system in One UI, which allows you to completely change the design of the phone. If you combine the capabilities of the shell with third-party applications, you can completely change the appearance of the shell and the operation of the device.
One UI looks radically different from other skins. Moreover, Google sometimes borrows ideas from One UI for future stock Android releases.
Samsung regularly releases updates for its smartphones, in some cases doing so before Google. These are the two market leaders in updating their devices. For other manufacturers, the situation is slightly or much worse.
OnePlus – OxygenOS
Initially, Oxygen OS was very similar to stock Android. Over the years of development, OnePlus has greatly changed the appearance of the shell, and now it is very far from the standard Android, becoming more similar to One UI.
OnePlus’ OxygenOS shell is quite popular among tech enthusiasts due to its minimalism, simplicity and smooth operation. Many technical reviewers even call it the most beautiful and best Android shell of all time.
Since OnePlus announced its merger with Oppo, OxygenOS has undergone major changes, becoming more like ColorOS. This, for obvious reasons, caused a violent reaction from OnePlus fans, forcing the company to abandon the merger of skins. However, OnePlus phones in China are sold with Color OS out of the box.
Among the interesting features, it is worth noting the Zen mode, which locks the phone for a while, forcing the user from using it. Hidden Space is the second useful tool that allows you to hide applications from everyone who uses your phone. OnePlus also offers some interesting always-on display animations that you won’t find anywhere else.
At the moment, OxygenOS is not as rich in features as One UI or Color OS, but it is a good solution for those who want to get an almost stock version of Android with additional features.
In recent years, shell updates are released irregularly. Perhaps the situation will be corrected, but according to the reviews of the owners of OnePlus smartphones so far.
Xiaomi – MIUI
When Xiaomi released the first version of MIUI, many design elements were borrowed from iOS. But recently, Xiaomi is moving away from the principle of borrowing and trying to give more individuality to its system.
Xiaomi’s MIUI shell is the second most popular Android shell in the world after Samsung’s One UI. It is the leader of the ranking in many Asian markets, offering many great features that are not available in stock Android.
MIUI is also put on Redmi and POCO phones (these are sub-brands of Xiaomi). There are rumours about the development of POCO UI and a separate shell for Redmi smartphones, but they have not yet been confirmed.
MIUI can be called the most functional Android shell with a large number of settings, widgets and themes. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of pre-installed applications and built-in advertising (like disabling advertising on Xiaomi).
Profiting from partnerships with advertisers and third-party developers, Xiaomi is reducing the price of phones to increase sales. Almost all Chinese smartphone makers use this strategy to conquer price-sensitive Asian markets.
Many Xiaomi system applications ask for unnecessary permissions, including a calculator or cleaner, and MIUI Daemon shamelessly monitors users. This is not surprising, since Xiaomi openly declares the processing of data and earning on them.
MIUI updates are released regularly. But Xiaomi’s policy is such that flagships and modern devices are the first to receive them, and only then the turn comes to the rest. In this queue, you can stand from several months to a year. You can track the release of MIUI updates on the miuirom.org website.
Oppo – ColorOS
Oppo’s Color OS is very similar to Samsung’s One UI. But don’t think they look or feel the same. It’s just that Oppo uses the same approach to its shell as Samsung, that is, it tries to offer you everything at once.
Oppo’s ColorOS shell is a mixture of MIUI and stock Android. It’s faster than MIUI, but still heavy enough to be considered easily customizable and feature-rich.
Color OS is almost nothing like stock Android: almost every detail has been changed to give the smartphones of the Chinese company a unique style. It contains many features that will almost certainly never appear in a stock operating system.
The system has a lot of settings and a lot of built-in applications and features that can turn the phone into something unique with the help of easy-to-use applications that are pre-installed in Color OS. You can change Always On Display animations, ringtones, icons, and more.
The latest versions of ColorOS are faster than their previous iterations. There are fewer ads, bugs and unwanted applications in the shell than in MIUI. ColorOS is also faster at getting stable software updates than MIUI or OxygenOS. Oppo’s update policy is getting better every year but still lags behind Google and Samsung.
As mentioned above, OnePlus’ Oxygen OS got its code from Color OS, so these systems are pretty similar.
Zen UI / ROG UI – Asus
Asus has two different Android skins:
- Ordinary smartphones of the company work on the Zen UI shell, which is close to the usual Android and does not differ much from the Pixel UI.
- ROG (Republic of Gamers) series gaming phones can use the ROG UI skin, which has a much more gaming aesthetic.
Zen UI looks and feels like a stock Android that remains lightweight, simple, and devoid of pre-installed garbage. However, it does contain additional features, so it’s not exactly a stock interface. The closest analogue of Zen UI is Google’s Pixel UI.
ROG UI is heavily game-oriented: vibrant colours and special gaming features enhance the gaming experience on your smartphone. The simplicity of the shell is its strong point: it is no less stable in operation, but non-gamers can be deterred by the chaotic design focused on players.
Zen UI and ROG UI have Battery Care, which focuses not on the battery life of the smartphone, but the longevity of the battery. It helps to extend the battery life of the phone, preventing it from overcharging.
Judging by the reviews of owners of Asus phones, there is trouble with updates. The company has a bad reputation in terms of releasing new versions of the software.
Xperia UI – Sony
Sony’s Xperia UI user interface is installed on Xperia smartphones. Like Asus’ Zen UI, Sony’s shell makes minimal changes to the stock version of Android. This makes the system easy, fast and stable to operate.
But Sony still adds extra features on top of stock Android. It’s just not as noticeable as in other Android shells like One UI or Color OS.
In general, Xperia UI is great for those who like Pixel UI or stock Android, but do not want to buy a phone brand Pixel. If you’ve ever used a Google Pixel smartphone, Xperia UI will make you feel right at home.
Xperia UI offers Side Sense, which is a widget that makes it much easier to use your smartphone with one hand. There’s a unique camera app that’s optimized for Sony hardware. Creator Mode makes the displayed colours as accurate as possible, which is great for watching movies on the phone screen.
It is worth noting that Sony is one of the worst companies in the release of updates. Don’t expect fast and consistent software support.
My UX – Motorola
My UX is the interface of Motorola’s new phones. Like Sony’s Xperia UI, My UX is very similar to the Google Pixel UI. It is simple and retains many design elements of the stock version of Android.
In the past, Motorola has had a bad reputation for its Android shell. Not only was it buggy, slow, and ugly, but some features were locked under an account that needed to be made into Motorola.
To date, My UX enjoys a good reputation as a great skin for Android. Motorola chose the “less is more” approach and did not change Android much. The developers only added a few new features and improvements, but in general, the interface remained the same.
Motorola’s My UX feels like a stock version, so it’s similar to the Xperia UI, Zen UI, and Pixel UI, but contains more firmware. For example, the pre-installed Moto app will help you master all the features of your smartphone. This will be useful for newcomers to the Motorola ecosystem and new Android users.
Motorola doesn’t have the best reputation for Android updates, and things don’t seem to be getting any better.
These are the main Shells for Android on the market. We specifically did not focus on third-party developers, paying attention to solutions from smartphone manufacturers. Although among them there are very interesting solutions like Pixel Experience or Resurrection Remix.
As you can see, smartphone software is far from standardized. Some shells, like Pixel UI or OxygenOS, are closer to stock Android and offer clean program code. And the heavier skins One UI from Samsung and MIUI from Xiaomi, has a lot of additional features.
Which shell do you like the most? We will be happy to read your feedback about the interface of your smartphone in the comments below.